Friday, March 20, 2009

Moore-led Siena gets to 2nd Round

Conference coaches left Siena's junior point guard Ronald Moore off the 2008-09 preseason all-star teams, picking 15 players ahead of the 5-foot-11 floor general.

They probably won't make the same mistake next season, not after the year Moore had in leading the conference in assists-to-turnover ratio, and not after the clutch performance Moore turned in to lift the Saints to a 74-72 double-overtime victory over Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night (into Saturday morning) in Dayton, Ohio.

Moore had six assists against a single turnover while pushing the ball quickly into the Buckeyes' defense all night.

But, with the game on the line on two different occassions, Moore called his own number to ensure the Saints would move on.

With Siena trailing by three in the closing seconds of the first extra session, Moore created some room with his dribble, enough to get off a three-pointer that tied it with 2.5 seconds left to force the second overtime.

Again, Siena needed a late basket to overcome a deficit in the second overtime and, again, Moore delivered.

He took a pass, set himself and popped in another three-pointer with 3.5 seconds left to turn a 72-71 Siena deficit into a 74-72 lead.

Ohio State standout Even Turner got off a contested 15-footer at the buzzer that bounced off the side of the rim, and the Siena celebration began.

And, now, it wouldn't be out of line to call Moore "Mr. Clutch."

Some perspective on what Siena has done: The victory marked the second straight season the Sants have advanced into the NCAA event's second round (they beat Vanderbilt, 83-62, last season).

Since the MAAC was formed in 1981, no conference team had previously won an NCAA Tournament game in back-to-back seasons.

Moore's game-saving and, then, game-winning shots at the end of the two overtimes, respectively surely will rank as the most-important field goals ever made by a Siena player.

In this blogger's 35 years watching the program, only one other shot immediately comes to mind that matches the importance of Moore's against Ohio State.

That was a put back after an offensive rebound by Steve McCoy at the buzzer of the championship game of the old North Atlantic Conference tournament in 1989, the basket that sent the team to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

There, Siena pulled off the upset of the tournament, knocking off Stanford, ranked 13th nationally that season, in the first round of the NCAA event.

Until now, that game was unquestionably the most-significant contest, the greatest victory, since the program moved to the Division I level in 1976.

The immediate reaction is to rank the current team's victory over Ohio State higher than the 1989 result.

It most certainly ranks as, maybe, the most-exciting outcome to a nationally significant game in the program's history.

And, at worst, it ranks among the top two all-time as the most-rewarding victory, along with the 1989 team's victory over Stanford, in the program's Division I history.

"These guys believe in each other and never gave up," said Saints coach Fran McCaffery, immediately after his team beat Ohio State.

Said Moore, about his game-winning shot: "I struggled shooting all night (4-of-13 from the field overall), but I was going to shoot that shot, and it went in. We're going to the second round again as a mid-major program. We've got a great coach, and a great team."

The reward? Siena advances to meet Louisville, the top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, on Sunday.

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